Friday, October 12, 2012

Illinois Players To Watch

Week 7 is upon us, and so is homecoming for Michigan football. During the pageantry of this week don't let us forget there is a game coming up against Illinois. It'll be the 94th meeting between the two teams, with Michigan carrying a 68-23-2 record in the series. Coming into the game, No. 25 Michigan is favored to win by more than three touchdowns, but don't let that fool you. Illinois can be just as dangerous as any other team out there. So far this season, even with a 2-4 record (winless in the Big Ten), the Illini have the 7th ranked pass defense in the FBS. On the other hand, they also rank 97th in passing offense, which falls squarely on the shoulders of the quarterback, and they've lost their last 4 games. That being said, monitor these players:

QB Nathan Scheelhaase hasn't lived up to expectations this season. Not only was he injured for the second and third games of the season, but so far he's only recorded 3 TDs and 5 INTs. I'm not sure if his left ankle is still bothering him, which is that injury that occurred earlier in the season, but his numbers are extremely pedestrian from a guy who've we become to know as another version of Denard Robinson. Yes, he ran 22 times for 84 yards and a score last week against Wisconsin, but beyond that his rushing totals are virtually non-existent. His passing skills aren't much better seeing as though he's only had one game so far where his completion percentage wasn't in the lower 60s. He might not have a lingering injury come Saturday, but he could be poised for a breakout game. If he fails considerably, it might be time for Riley O'Toole to take over, which isn't an endorsement. O'Toole did fine in the absence of Scheelhaase, passing for 6 TDs against 2 INTs, but 5 of those touchdowns were against Charleston Southern. I could easily see Frank Clark and Jake Ryan terrorizing either one all game long.

Running back wise, as I stated earlier in my Illinois team preview, is just not bearing fruit. Productive fruit...kind of like the lack of apples at cider mills across Michigan. So far, Donovann Young is the best of a mediocre group and he has only ran for 227 yards and two touchdowns. Needless to say this is a major cause of concern for the Illini and why they are currently ranked 96th in the nation in rushing yards per game. Can Young prove himself to be the go-to guy? I don't think it'll happen against Michigan, and surely not against Michigan's defense that has improved with each game.

Defensively, I'm not sure what to expect. The secondary does well defending against the pass, but they still gave up 427 yards to a woeful Wisconsin offense. They have allowed 8.0 yards per pass attempt (tied for 104th in the nation) and 11 passing touchdowns so far this year. Last season against Illinois, Robinson passed for 92 yards and an interception. Part of the reason was that a tough Fighting Illini run defense limited him to 30 yards on 12 carries. This season, their defense is much worse overall. One player that might do some damage defensively, offensively, and on special teams is Terry Hawthorne. Hawthorne is listed to play cornerback, but is also pretty decent on returning punts and possibly kickoffs. Hawthorne might be the only guy on defense who can make a difference against Michigan.

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